|Couture scoring the eventual game winning goal against price|
The Sharks have been one of the best teams in the early going. Coming in they had a 8-1-1 record after losing the Bruins the other night. It isn't simply that they are winning games but are doing so in a convincing manner. They are not only out-shooting their opponents but their ability to box out the opposition leaves little opportunities to score on Antii Niemi.
The Canadiens, coming off of a 4-1 win against the Ducks, had the chance to evaluate their level of play against a team that is looking like a strong contender for the Stanley Cup.
Right off puck-drop the game plan was different. The Canadiens were not controlling the puck and using their speed to generate any kind of breakouts. The fore-check was nearly invisible, few players were making an effort to finish their checks against the bigger and more physical San Jose squad.
The best way to describe the outing would be to say the Canadiens played "a good road game at home". They held the Sharks back but it was obvious which team was favored coming into this game.
This is where the game-plan should have been different. The Habs have gone up by two goals in four of their last five games, this is the mind-set coach Therrien should have instilled into his squad. It doesn't matter who you play against you stick to what has been working. That is not to say you don't make adjustments but when you're the home team and hold the final change you force your opponent to play your game, not the other way around. It isn't a sound strategy to play for overtime, the Bell Center provides one of the best ambiences in the league, and any player will tell that you that harnessing the energy from the home crowd can be a great source of motivation.
The Habs did successfully hold the Sharks out from being a dominant goal scoring machine. They played very well on the penalty kill, allowing one goal on four chances. The lone power play goal for the Sharks came off the stick of Logan Couture from Joe Thornton. Couture, who scored a pair of goals, seemed to have the hockey Gods on his side, especially the second one. Couture's second tally of the night occurred in the third period when Patrick Marleau dumped in the puck which ricocheted off the end boards catching Price by surprise as he was going to play it, it landed right on Couture's stick and he slid it in.
Besides a 10 minute window in the second period it did not look like Montreal had any kind of offense being generated. The legs seemed to drag on in the third period, but that is the result of constantly pushing back your opponent rather than force them to play on their heels.
As mentioned earlier, this game can be a kind of measuring stick as to where exactly the Canadiens stand in the league. This game says they are a team that will contend for a spot in the lower half of the playoff table and are a few years away from being in the top tier in the league.
The fact they are currently able to hold back a very strong and deep Sharks team speaks to their defense. However, the inability to produce scoring chances was their downfall. The team still has an abundance of time left in the season to make the necessary changes to their game to get them into the post season. Once you get to the dance than it only takes a timely hot streak to get you deep into the chase for Stanley's Cup.
Photo: Graham Hughes, AP